The first day of free agency marked a major change in the future direction the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins surprised no one when it was announced they had reached an agreement with wide receiver Mike Wallace, but the same could not be said of their next few moves.
In one of the most stunning moves of the offseason, the Dolphins announced the signing of Dannell Ellerbe, who despite being a free agent, was widely thought to be the heir apparent to the Baltimore Ravens‘ legendary linebacker Ray Lewis.
They also signed Phillip Wheeler away from the Oakland Raiders, and they followed up these signings by releasing Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, the heart of the Dolphins defense in 2012.
Dansby was coming off of his best statistical year as a Dolphin, yet he was released without any remorse. This in itself should speak volumes to how serious the Dolphins are about developing a winner in South Florida, and they clearly believe that younger, faster and stronger linebackers are part of the answer.
The Dolphins also selected Jelani Jenkins with the 104th pick of April’s NFL Draft, a linebacker with inside and outside experience. An “undersized” player with a history of injury, the Dolphins may have overvalued Jenkins, but when you look at his strengths, it is easy to understand why. He is quick, aggressive and plays laterally with great skill.
He will have to work his way onto the field this fall, but his skill set fits perfectly into the linebacker scheme defensive coordinator Kevin Coyles is trying to put into place.
The NFL has become dominated by offenses that kill with speed and versatility. It only makes sense that Coyles would want to combat that with speed and versatility of his own. Linebackers need to be able to cover tight ends like Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski, they need to be able to get to the edge to stop running backs for a loss, and they need to be able to get to the quarterback quicker than ever before.
Ellerbe, Wheeler and Jenkins are all molded for this type of workload, as does fourth-year outside linebacker Koa Misi, who should find the evolution of the Dolphins’ defensive philosophy caters to his abilities. Misi had best find the changes advantageous, because if Jenkins does make the field on Sundays, it would be at Misi’s weak side position.
With additions and upgrades all across the Dolphins defense, the changes at linebacker are surely the most important. They are to be the heart of the defense, and Miami’s success or failure will be on their shoulders for years to come.